Manchester City head to Swansea today hoping to secure victory to further enhance their Quadruple chances.
Pep Guardiola’s side will be heavy favourites for the game against the Championship team and the quarter-final draw has given more ammunition to those with short or selective memories to talk up what an easy time of it City have been given by randomly drawn balls.
Swansea’s name has not featured as a potential obstacle in the quest for the Quadruple, unlike heavyweights such as Liverpool, United, Barcelona and Juventus
Yet nobody expected League One side Wigan to be the first team to knock the Blues out of a competition last year, and that game came similarly out of the blue. The Premier League champions-elect arrived at the DW Stadium with nine wins and a draw from 11 league games in 2018, then included Sergio Aguero, Leroy Sane, David and Bernardo Silva, Ilkay Gundogan, John Stones and Aymeric Laporte in the starting XI.
A few lapses in concentration and 90 minutes later any talk of four trophies was shelved for a season.
If that night was a blip, it was also part of a small but significant trend.
The lower league sides that have given Guardiola’s City problems – Wolves, Bristol City, and Huddersfield also come to mind – have had common traits: intelligent coaching, resolute defending, enough ambition to counter at the right moments, and total confidence in their own identity as a team.
Swansea’s inconsistency this season is reflected in the fact they are no higher than 15th in their first season back in the Championship, but on their day they can be a match for many sides – and most of their days tend to come at the Liberty Stadium. Boxing Day is the last home game they lost, with five wins and two draws since including victory over high-flying Sheffield United.
Graham Potter is a man with a growing reputation as a talented coach. His Ostersunds side troubled Arsenal last season in the Europa League and he will have views on how to get at City; the fact that their last two games have been away to Norwich and West Brom should have allowed for a decent standard to prepare for today.
Guardiola has named strong sides in the FA Cup all season, partly because of the upset last season and also simply because he has so many talented players in the squad. However, what will give him most confidence is the players coming through a similar situation and not making the same mistakes.
It is why last season’s title win spurred another strong start, why victory over Liverpool in January helped the players keep their belief that they can win the league again, and why the manager continues to harbour doubts about their Champions League dreams.
Lose at Swansea and, however unexpected, it won’t make for a disastrous season but victory, however it comes, can lift the players and the manager even more for the last two months of the season.
As well as making the semi-finals of a competition Guardiola has never won, more evidence that the group are stronger this season could yet make a difference in the pursuit of other trophies.